Wholefood versus Refined Food

The human organism itself is able to process food until it is refined enough to be absorbed into the circulation of blood and lymph. For this purpose both physical and chemical methods are used to break down the ingested food into basic nutrients that can be assimilated by our body. Regular consumption of wholefood strengthens our digestive ‘muscles’ – that is our forces which are active in the breaking-down activities, while regular consumption of refined food progressively weakens our digestive forces.

Activities of Refining in the Digestive Tract

After we have eaten, food is subjected to various breaking-down activities and processes. [1] These processes start in the mouth by chewing – that is, by physical breakdown – which enables transformation of food from whatever shape and texture it had before into a soft consistency. After this the food is swallowed and proceeds into the stomach.

Food is also subjected to multiple chemical breaking-down processes. These are facilitated through the excretion of the digestive juices. On average we excrete seven litres  of digestive juices per day:

In these digestive juices three different types of enzymes are present:

Carbohydrates are subjected to three stages of chemical breakdown:

The outcomes of these processes are glucose and other simple sugars.

Proteins are subjected to two stages of chemical breakdown:

The outcomes of these processes are amino acids.

Fats are subjected to one stage of chemical breakdown:

The outcomes of this process are fatty acids and glycerol.

The final outcome of all these activities is chyme. Besides simple sugars, amino acids, fatty acids and glycerol, it contains water, dissolved minerals, and any undigested substances, of which the majority is plant fibre.

In the small intestine, as the chyme moves along, the individual nutrients (simple sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, etc.) are selected and absorbed into the body. The rest (so-called waste material) moves into the large intestine and is finally eliminated as a stool.

Industrial versus Bodily Food Refining

Industrial refining is mainly used in the processing of grains, sugar, oils and salt. With a few exceptions this involves the physical breakdown of food before refining can start. Refining is the process of 'purification' where a desired ingredient is separated from so-called residues and by-products. While in the case of petroleum these impurities will clog an engine if it is not refined beforehand, the situation with food is quite different.

In the case of carbohydrate foods the refining process removes the following 'impurities':

Awareness of the importance of dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins is common knowledge in modern societies. In the case of fibre it is well documented that a lack of these 'residues' causes the very opposite: it causes constipation, the equivalent to the clogging of an engine.

There is another important difference. Take for example the production of pure fructose, which can be nowadays bought as a 'natural' substitute for ordinary sugar. Fructose is in chemical terms monosaccharide, consisting of one single molecule of sugar. When it is produced in a factory, industrial refining processes take place until pure fructose crystals are separated from the rest of the fruit.

When we ourselves eat fruit our organism breaks it down. At the end pure fructose is extracted and absorbed into the body. What is not absorbed, what has remained rough and coarse, is eliminated. We can therefore characterize this as a process of inner refining performed by our own organism.

The main difference between industrial refining and our own refining of food is that in the first case the work is done for us beforehand by means of technology, and in the second case we do the work ourselves. While sometimes it is beneficial if the work is done for us, in this case the outcome is quite the contrary. For we need to be aware that we become strong if we exercise our digestive 'muscles' by doing all the breaking-down which is typical for our digestive organs. This is so because "the organism is a relationship of activities. The essence of the organism lies in action, not in substance. The organization is not relationship of substance; it is an activity." [2] And we become progressively weaker if we do not use our digestive 'muscles' as much as we are capable of.


If we compare the effects of eating Wholefood (i.e., whole grains, wholemeal products, whole sugar and other natural sweeteners, etc) with those of eating Refined Food (i.e., refined grains and cereal products, refined sugar, etc.) we see two main differences:

Even if somehow it might be possible to supplement what has been lost by obtaining dietary fibre and essential nutrients from other food sources, the best way is to get them in the original packages (e.g. wholegrain, etc.) for we need them in such combinations and proportions as they exist in their natural forms. However there is no way of making up for the loss of the breaking-down activities due to eating predominantly Refined Food such as white bread, white rice, white pasta, white sugar, etc. A regular diet based on Refined Food will inevitably weaken one's digestive forces – that is, those forces which are active in the breaking-down processes until food is sufficiently refined to be ready for absorption into the blood and lymph circulation.

For that reason eating Wholefood has great advantages. Obviously our digestive system is made for eating Wholefood, but if it has been weakened by years of a diet based on Refined Food, then it is advisable to do the following:

The time-frame and speed of such recovery can considerable vary from person to person. And remember, eating refined cereal products with the addition of bran is not the same as eating whole grains. It is better than eating solely refined cereal products, but with this combination you still do not employ your forces of inner refining in the same measure as is the case with consumption of whole grains.

There is another question which needs to be raised: Is Organic Refined Food a better choice than non-organic refined food? There are some benefits in regard to pesticide residues, etc., but the truth is that in regard to the above mentioned two main disadvantages of eating Refined Food there is no great difference. We are losing essential nutrients and the activity of 'inner refining' in both cases – if we eat non-organic or organic Refined Food! Indeed one can only wonder why one would make such an effort to increase the quality of living soil and consequently the quality of crops, and then, in the case of Organic Refined Foods, all these advantages are literally thrown away through costly and energy-wasteful refining.

For more detailed investigation of this topic see report Is Refined Food Really Organic?


  1. Sources: A. Waugh, A. Grant, Ross and Wilson: Anatomy and Physiology in Health and Illness, Elsevier Limited, 2004; A.J. Cichoke, Enzymes – The Sparks of Life, Alive Books, 2002; www.wikipedia
  2. Rudolf Steiner, source unknown